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Daily Digest: House ups penalties for some protests

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Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday. Here's the Digest.

1. House passes bill that increases penalties for some protests. For the third time in a year, the Minnesota House approved legislation cracking down on protesters who impede freeway traffic, airport access roads or dedicated transit lines by allowing prosecutors to charge those involved in a blockade with gross misdemeanors. Such charges could bring stiffer fines and the possibility of up to a year in jail. The actions are illegal now, but charges are limited to a misdemeanor. A similar measure passed off the House and Senate floors last year, only to be discarded in end-of-session negotiations. The language is also part of this year’s House budget bills. The latest version, which passed Tuesday on a 71-55 vote,  is traveling alone. It’s unclear what Gov. Mark Dayton would do if it reaches him. Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River and the bill’s sponsor, said he’s attempting to deter “increasingly escalating protest activity that is dangerous.”  Democrats said it was less about public safety than punishment. They said it would have a chilling effect on free speech. “This is a fight between authoritarianism and free speech, and this bill moves us in the direction of authoritarianism,” said Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul. (MPR News)

2. TV ads about gun restrictions begin running. A group seeking new gun restrictions in Minnesota and other states released three TV ads Tuesday that it planned to run between now and the end of the Legislature’s session in about two weeks. Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund is trying to step up pressure for a vote on two gun control bills that have been stalled since March. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt has said they lack support to pass. One of the ads features a mother who is described as a gun owner from Isanti, which is represented by House Public Safety Committee Chairman Brian Johnson and is in the vicinity of Daudt’s district. In the ad, the woman says she’s worried about her son’s safety. “Nobody is coming to take my guns away,” the woman, Stacy Ellens, says. “I think the heart of it is just keeping guns away from dangerous people.” Rob Doar, vice president and political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said the “out-of-state funded ads continue to show the fallacy of the ‘gun show loophole.’ They also overlook the burdens placed on law-abiding gun owners by overreaching legislation that will not keep firearms out of the hands of people they are actually seeking to disarm.” (MPR News)

3. Children's mental health centers lose federal funding. Nearly a dozen residential treatment centers for children with serious mental illness have lost millions of dollars in federal funding, in the wake of a federal decision that could imperil care for hundreds of children. After a prolonged review, state and federal health regulators determined last week that 11 treatment centers with a total of 580 beds no longer qualify for coverage under the public Medicaid program. Officials cited a 1970s-era rule that prevents Medicaid from paying for care at larger institutions with more than 16 beds. The decision casts doubt on the future of residential programs that treat hundreds of children and adolescents with histories of trauma and who suffer from a range of psychiatric problems, including severe anxiety and self-injurious behavior. The facilities are seen by state officials and mental health advocates as vital to helping children return to stability after a psychiatric crisis, and to avoid costly hospitalizations. (Star Tribune)

4. Report: Minnesota economy outpaces Wisconsin since 2010. Ever since northern neighbors Wisconsin and Minnesota veered off in opposite directions politically, a rhetorical border war has been fanned over the competing parties and policies that have guided them. The latest volley comes from a liberal research group, the Economic Policy Institute, which finds that “on a multitude of key measures, Minnesota’s economic performance over the past seven years has been markedly better than that of its neighbor to the east.” Put another way, Minnesota has fared better economically under Democrats than Wisconsin has under Republicans, according to a study released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based organization. It points to Wisconsin’s slower growth in wages, jobs, income and population since the two adjacent states elected vastly different political leadership. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has served in Wisconsin since 2011, as has Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in Minnesota.  The report argues that because these states share so many characteristics, they offer a “natural experiment” or case study in how “two different governing philosophies” have shaped their economic recoveries from the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.  (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

5. Dayton pushes health care plan that Republicans oppose. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is making a last-ditch push for a health care proposal that Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have repeatedly snubbed. With less than two weeks remaining in the 2018 session, Dayton called on lawmakers again Tuesday to pass a MinnesotaCare buy-in option. He wants the subsidized program available to anyone in need of affordable health coverage. Dayton said during a news conference that Republican opposition to the plan will impose additional financial hardship on thousands of people. “They scream and shout and say ‘health care is unaffordable because of the Affordable Care Act.’ Well, that may be one factor, but here’s a chance to do something about it,” Dayton said. “Here’s a chance to make a difference in the lives of Minnesotans.” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the governor’s plan isn’t going anywhere this session. Dean, the chair of the House health and human services finance committee, said the proposal would underfund small rural hospitals and force many to close. (MPR News)